Acorns, late-season greens a great winter start

Acorns, late-season greens a great winter start
John C. Lorson

While the fruit of the crabapple tree is every bit as edible as that of its close relative the apple tree, you might find yourself puckered up a bit at the tart finish. The small size and persistence — or tendency for the tree to hold onto fruit throughout the winter — make the crabapple a favorite choice for overwintering or early returning migratory birds along with other wintering wildlife.


November and the green pulse of my garden have slowly spiraled down to a halt. Whatever life it was still capable of living has now been extinguished.

Having gone light this year on the collards, my typical cold-season champion, I was left with a spread of salad greens I’d limped along all the way up to a hard, post-Thanksgiving cold snap. It had been a labor of love that found me covering the shiny green chard and tender second-crop lettuce plants each night with a pair of plastic kiddie pools.

I’d plucked each of the 4-foot-diameter splash pools from the curbside on trash nights over the course of the summer, envisioning them more as doggy bathtubs than surrogate greenhouses, but necessity is the mother of invention. As I’d struggled to drape a tarp over the delicate plants as a clearing October sky threatened the first frost, I spotted the nested pair of pools leaning against the fence and a brainstorm ensued. As a consequence we’ve eaten fresh greens right into the holiday season. I’ll be watching the curb for more little plastic greenhouses next summer.

Gratefully, the same chill that drains the life from the garden also does a number on the bugs as well. The outdoors are apt to be a mosquito-free paradise for the next couple of months, and I can confidently bomb down hills on my bicycle without risking an insect to the eye for at least a bit. Better news still is that even though most ticks will survive the winter by either lying dormant in the forest duff or finding shelter in the fur of a warm-blooded host, their activity is greatly diminished below 35 F. Be vigilant as always, but you’re likely to find fewer of the savage bloodsuckers out and about right now.

I’m not sure of an official word on all available foodstuffs for wildlife over the winter, but the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s annual Acorn Survey held some promising news. In the Eastern U.S., few plant species approach the positive impact of oak trees on their native environment, and the DOW looks upon the survey as a key indicator in predicting favorable conditions for overwintering wildlife.

Acorn production in white oaks was up slightly from last year, and that of red oaks was up an impressive 16% from the previous year to match the long-term average. That’s great news for a huge number of wildlife species that depend at least in part on the availability of acorns to make it through the winter months. Squirrel, deer, wild turkey and a whole host of other species, 90 in all, will benefit from the bumper crop.

Anecdotally, I’ve observed strong stands of berries, seeds, nuts and crab apples in the woods and fields this year. As long as extended snow cover doesn’t prevent the foragers from finding their food, there should be plenty for everyone throughout the winter. Here’s to a prosperous and kind season for wildlife!

If you have comments on this column or questions about the natural world, write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email You also can follow along on Instagram @railtrailnaturalist.

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